On Sunday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant had recently spoken with Houston Rockets guard James Harden about the possibility of the pair reuniting in Brooklyn. Per the ESPN report, the idea of joining Durant and Kyrie Irving is “resonating with Harden.” Houston’s future and current path to contention remains unclear with Russell Westbrook reportedly having requested a trade earlier in the week.
The Rockets lost head coach Mike D’Antoni and longtime executive Daryl Morey earlier in the off-season, promoting former general counsel Rafael Stone and hiring long-time NBA assistant Stephen Silas as replacements. It has been a shakeup from top to bottom within the Rockets organization. A trade of Harden would usher in a complete rebuild.
It is important to note, however, that Houston has no urgency to make a deal involving Harden, particularly given the lack of enticing assets on the Nets’ roster. Harden is under club control until 2022 when he can exercise a player option to enter free agency. Having said that, the return on a Harden deal could be greater this summer, theoretically, given that a recipient team would have the guard under contract for two full seasons rather than just as a mere rental if acquired next summer.
To date, the market for Westbrook has been bare, not surprisingly, given the $132 million remaining on his contract. Reportedly, the New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets could both be interested with each franchise weighing the potential benefits from a short-term return to relevance. Charlotte has the third pick in the upcoming NBA draft and New York has the eighth pick. Either pick, if obtained, could be useful to acquire another veteran to convince Harden to stay if he so choses.
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If dealing Harden, Houston would be approaching waters uncharted for the franchise since 2012. That was the year Morey acquired Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder in what will be remembered as one of the most lopsided deals in league history. Since that span, with Harden leading the way, Houston has never missed the postseason, making two Western Conference Finals appearances, in 2015 and 2018. In 2018, the Rockets pushed the eventual league champion Golden State Warriors to seven games.
Stone could call both Harden and Westbrook’s bluffs, and opt to keep the pair together for another season to see if Silas could strike lightning in a bottle. But the risk for Stone, in his first offseason as general manager, is Westbrook’s value further diminishing and Harden leaving in 2022 or requesting a trade next summer. In such a scenario, Houston would be left holding the bag on Westbrook’s contract with no clear avenue to rebuild with his salary taking up such a major percentage of the cap. Further problematic is the roster challenges faced by a Westbrook-centric team.
For now, nothing seems imminent, but the franchise could be on the brink of the next era in its history.
Source: Forbes – Business